April 5, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bill Clinton's spokesman reaffirmed the administration's resistance to the use of ground troops in Kosovo on Monday, telling reporters that NATO soldiers would enter the province only as peacekeepers.
"We will not use ground troops in anything but a permissive environment," White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart said.
Lockhart's comments followed those of Defense Secretary William Cohen, who said the Clinton administration and NATO remain committed to a strategy of only airstrikes in Yugoslavia. Their statements come amid growing congressional calls for the use of ground troops in the Balkans.
Lockhart said the United States and NATO still want Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the requirements laid down in the Rambouillet peace accords before the allied bombing campaign in Yugoslavia will end.
The Rambouillet agreement called for the withdrawal of soldiers and special police units from the Serbian province of Kosovo; autonomy for the province, which was about 90 percent ethnic Albanian; and the establishment of a NATO force to keep the peace there.
NATO also wants a guarantee of safe return for the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees who have fled the fighting there. Ethnic Albanian representatives already have agreed to the terms set in February talks at Rambouillet, outside Paris.
Cohen: Helicopter gunships expand air campaign
The attacks on Yugoslav military targets, Serbian special police and strategic targets such as bridges will continue "until he comes to the conclusion that peace is in his interest -- a peace that captures the essence of Rambouillet," Lockhart said.
Earlier Monday, Cohen said the decision to send U.S. helicopter gunships and short-range missiles to the region is an escalation of the existing allied air campaign, not a move toward putting troops into the field.
The 24 Apache gunships, along with support crews and a rocket artillery battalion, will be based in Albania and pitted against Yugoslav army units in Kosovo.
"We have started to hit many of the rail lines, the bridges, the petroleum storage and ammunition depots," Cohen said in an interview on CNN. "Now we're starting to take the air campaign directly to the tanks, the heavy artillery, the types of gatherings of armed forces and police forces in the field."
Not only is the United States unwilling to commit combat troops to ground action in the Balkans, but NATO is unlikely to consider such a move, he said.
"This is a NATO operation. It's not a unilateral action by the United States. The NATO countries are committed to waging an air campaign," he said.
Senior senators join calls for ground troops
NATO bombing raids aimed at stopping the Yugoslav offensive against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo went into their 13th day Monday. And the United States is making plans to take in 20,000 refugees from the fighting at U.S. bases either in Guam, in the Pacific, or Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Cohen said.
But some key members of Congress said air power alone cannot end the conflict.
"It's time for him (President Clinton) to stop saying he won't put them on the table," Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) said on CNN's "Late Edition." "It's time for him to say that ground troops are a possibility."
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) told ABC's "This Week," "I hope if the Congress returns that we convince him to do his job -- to be commander-in-chief -- to win the war."
Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D- Connecticut).
"The world and the Balkans will look very different when we return to the Senate next week than it did when we left last week," Lieberman said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"Last week, there was no support for American or NATO ground forces. Next week, I think there may be, because we understand more," said Lieberman, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Aid efforts for Kosovo refugees intensified
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites
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